Skip to main content

tv   Jon Grinspan The Age of Acrimony  CSPAN  August 11, 2021 5:58am-6:59am EDT

5:58 am >> welcome, everybody. i am co-owner of e city bookshop on capitol hill here in washington, d.c. we are so happy to have you with
5:59 am
us tonight to hear about the age of acrimony, how americans fought to fix their democracy. before we get started, just a quick housekeeping item. if you have comments or any kind of technical problems that you need help with, put those things into the chat box at the bottom of your screen depending i guess on what kind of device you are on. if you have questions for john that you would like for him to answer after the presentation, please put those in the q and a box. you can do that anytime and we will get to those at the end of the event, towards the end of the event. if you have not yet purchased the book, you could do that during that event. there will be a link where you can find a book on our website in the chat. that will be a couple times during the event. we we really appreciate your support of authors and in the
6:00 am
bookstores for us to be here. you can purchase a copy of the book. or from your local independent bookstore. on to the main event. curator of political history at the smithsonian national museum of american history. author of the 2016 award-winning book how young americans make democracy social, politics personal and voting popular in the 19th century. he frequently contributes to the new york times that has been featured in the new yorker the washington post and elsewhere. this entails traveling the country from 19 to 20th century campaigns conventions and protests. the smithsonian. down lives in washington, d.c. in fact right around the corner and down the block from where i
6:01 am
am right now, my house on capitol hill. so, he is one of e cities bookshops neighbors and customers. for those of us that work there, his work is much appreciated. he was first known as mayfield's husband. his wife has held a number of positions that e city bookshop. currently offers web and eyes on racism at the workshop. if you are interested in that please go to our website and read more about it. also the father of an adorable little boy who probably has the most extensive home library of any 3-year-old around. please welcome john. >> thank you so much, lori, for having me. thank you for creating the bookshop. such a wonderful community for
6:02 am
my family as well. i know you are celebrating your fifth anniversary right now. go visit the bookshop. yes. as was mentioned, i am a curator of political history. the smithsonian. my job, in part is that i go around the country to elections, conventions, rallies, protests to collect objects from our moment right now. our moment in american politics and democracy. this umbrella you can see here which was at a 2016 democratic national convention protests outside city hall for bernie sanders. you can see and ended up in our collections. kind of the democracy in real-time. historical objects being used to tell the story about the -- american democracy.
6:03 am
i kept having the same conversations. across the political spectrum. people would say some version of this is not normal. what is happening in america. expressing some type of shared sense across party lines of something unprecedented happening in our politics. in other ethics of my job, i go back into our special collections and explore objects from forgotten 19th century america. torches from midnight rallies that you can see on the middle and bottom and on the top there. ballots from stolen elections and reconstruction. uniforms from paramilitary organizations like other political clubs. all of this accumulates as evidence in our past. i started to see back-and-forth going from these worlds that our current moment is precedented.
6:04 am
two more tendency and patterns across our democracy that we have seen before. this is mostly good news. some of our deepest concerns. also that they managed to make reforms eventually. to me it is a very big lesson on one chance. the crisis of democracy in our past. it is just at the last time people worried about many of the things we are worrying about today is political violence. voter suppression. these types of things. it died off a century ago. there is a. from the 1860s through 1900s where america went through a generation long fight with how democracy should work, who should participate and how we should behave in our political system. campaigns that battled over race and class and ethnicity and gender and inequality. during the closest elections in
6:05 am
our history. this in the second half of the 19th century is voter turnout in american history. you can see from this chart on the slide 77% in the presidential election and the second half of the 19th century. it exceeds 80% of eligible voters. these are the closest. this is a county level map. it is in congress today of the election of 1880. the closest popular vote election. this is also the period of political violence in america democracy. the age of reconstruction when it is used to suppress the votes of african-americans in the south. labor unrest and the suppression of the labor movement is going on in industrial cities. hundreds of thousands have been injured. this is a period where political parties and organizations often fought in the street like organized crime syndicates.
6:06 am
this is the error that is the most relevant, most vital to understand our moments. it is almost totally forgotten to us today. we do not remember this era precisely because it was deliberately ended by the very reforms that came to consider normal over the 20th century. our sense of normal politics meaning several, low turnout 20th century democracy is actually really abnormal and was invented to fix our politics the last time they broke in the 19th century. as i uncover the study of forgotten -- the story of a family that live through this era, it happens to be america's greatest father daughter dynasty. his daughter florence kelley whose relationship with their democracy at each other capture this era of crisis a major change. will kelly was a congressman
6:07 am
from philadelphia. his daughter was a labor activist. fighting for people for over a century essentially. building friendships with everyone from abe lincoln to teddy roosevelt. reformers above their era. they show up everywhere. he rose from abolition to women suffrage to workers rights to the growth of the industrial economy to end child labor to tomato as a vegetable. they are head perfectly in this moment. their story helps to tell the origin story of what we consider normal democracy. it is very unusual father daughter dynasty. it provides us with a narrative to understand these changes. it may be hard to imagine that at the beginning of the spirit in the mid- 1800s as an era of huge optimism about democracy in america.
6:08 am
we think back on politics today, we think about all the people that were left out. all the way politics is limited and bigoted and exclusionary and all of those denied their right to vote. it is important to remember that by the standards of world history up to the 19th century there is something wildly optimistic going on in america in this experiment of popular government. expanded voting rights. immigrants, young people get to vote. the air out where they denied the rights of equal acts. this is where the reform movements really take off. it is an incredible photograph of an african-american political campaign headquarters in the 1890s. this is the era where those movements were really born. the democracy really took off in america in many ways despite its restrictions. with the end of the civil war in
6:09 am
1865 with the death of slavery and the defeat of the aristocrat way of running the government, they throw around the pure democracy. without all of the old restraints, class and race. this idea that the majority should be the only king and the ballot box should be the only throne. this is a political cartoon. showing all the diverse of america. united around a thanksgiving table with the about box as a sensor. they are arguing it will be the uniting force in america going forward. kind of unrestrained politics. a few people pushing this message to see all the challenges that would come with democracy, this would be a really difficult political system to run. this is a moment that will kelly called terrible times for timid people. he used outline in a speech in congress in 1865 at the end of
6:10 am
the civil war where he introduces the first bill for black voting rights on the federal level in america. he makes a case that a country that denies the people the right to vote gives them the right to rebel against a pirate that will not hear their voice. he kind of expresses the populist tone of democracy at the time. the bigger, the louder, the more accessible the system is, the safer it will be. will kelly is attacked in the hotel in downtown d.c. by another congressman who is armed with a knife and slices him down to the bone and says he will shoot him before he goes to bed. this one week in his life captured so much about this political system. the optimism of the democracy and the lows of this bareknuckle brutal politics that it often involved. this story also tells a lot about will kelly's rise. born in the northern liberties neighborhood in 1814 and he grew up in real poverty. his father died when he was two
6:11 am
years old. their possessions are auctioned off on the street to pay his father's debt. a strong working class. he gets a lifelong scar from working in a jeweler shop working with top metals and everything. he built his identity from a young age. democracy is expanding to give speeches on street corners. calling for the use at the time that were really out there. a 12 hour workday. he stands up for his physicality. he has about 6-foot three. he has very tall and very skinny and very lean. a really deep voice. he had a voice like an eloquent graveyard. a really striking figure.
6:12 am
striking towards the way he is building coalitions in this time. most coalitions it talked about the working classes back in, voters from african-americans. whale is one of the few politicians in this era that is working for white and african-american working classes together. african-american friends. connections with the abolitionist movement before the war. he helps to found the republican party in pennsylvania. abe lincoln to es in contact with all throughout the war. he keeps fighting physically. a path that the willard hotel. he has bottles of ashes thrown at him at beaches. during reconstruction he has given a speech of mobile alabama. a time when they fired while he was speaking. two people died at this event. his life kind of captures something at the political system. the goals of democracy.
6:13 am
the ways that it could be really brutal. public of partisan and passionate. these are the markers of politics at this point. they are really public, thawed out in the street. they are kind of convulsive to the whole culture. the main way to campaign back then, you would get partisan from your side. they marched through town at midnight. it could be really striking and exciting if they are like party. really ominous if you did not like the democrats marching under at midnight. it is kind of saturating in a way. back then if you have the right to vote you took a ballot given to you by a peddler working for a party. you casted in a ballot box in front of all the voters in your community. including challengers trying to prevent you for voting for legal reasons or intimidate you or sometime shoot you or stab you.
6:14 am
when you poke the voter and let them know they should not vote wrong. the democracy that is only engaged by voter society. all of those that do not have the right to vote which is all women in this era, african-americans at different points in every 121. they still cared. they still follow the elections. they still read the newspaper. it seems kind of saturating. people are engaged in their democracy. they are engaged in a really partisan way. the democratic party and they dominate public discourse. a famous quote from an immigrant that is being naturalized to become a citizen in america. in pennsylvania and the 1890s. asked to explain in america. three equal branches.
6:15 am
he says it is two-sided. democrats and republicans. that is often what it feels like. these parties often consume all of their identities. race, ethnicity, region, class all become part of this partisan culture war going on in america. it makes sense. they are not that many other institutions in 19th century american life. an area of urbanization. people leave their families and communities and the things that welcomes them is a political party. you drink for them and you feel a sense of identity and membership. partisanship becomes really powerful. it builds up passionate politics. an area read by government. an outrage machine that is constantly driving people to be upset about something. the parties avoid political issues for the most part and try to find out for the other side. the press plays a real role in
6:16 am
this pipe being mean and aggressive and sarcastic. deriving the public partisan political system. all through this era, 60s and 70s, will kelly lives kind of a double life. on the one hand, he is running four office, campaigning for their reconstruction amendment. a country surviving in this political system. on the other hand, he is going home to his home is what i dread i -- he kind of makes it his mission to teach her to be a politician. she has born in 1859. no reason to assume she will ever have the right to vote or hold office. she wants her to be a public figure, nonetheless. he brings her into the library and they read books on child labor together. just a small child. she remembered how strange that seemed at the time but how informative it was. meeting with philadelphia's
6:17 am
african-american leaders. they plan to write the 50s amendment given black men the right to vote in america. he brings her with him to steal mills. pig iron kelly in these years. kind of making fun of him as a lower-class political. the main industry. taking it on as his identity. seeing how it is made. he helped organize the world fair in philadelphia. blocks from his house. when she goes to cornell at age 16, he writes with her about what he is doing in washington. finally as a young adult, goes to live with him in washington and kind of attends washington's political culture. ghost with her famous father who soars a's and events it becomes notorious in her own ways. a note from a washington society paper saying of interacting with florence kelley, the young girls were a little afraid of her. the young men were not entirely
6:18 am
at ease with her presence in the legislators were very careful with the statistics. helping will kelly write speeches. she can be seen in congress with her father speaking on the floor. she is sitting in the galleries mouthing the same words. the ability is political dynasty together. father and daughter about democracy and benefiting working people. using the federal government to aid people in america. which is a radical thing to try to do at that time. at the same time, something is -- violences epidemic. this is the era where three of the four presidential assassinations happened in 36 years. an era until the end of the century when one congressman is murdered while sitting in office every seven years. regular massacres of black voters in mississippi and louisiana and south carolina and north carolina. all of this political violence does not correlate with an overall high murder rate in the
6:19 am
society. it is not just a wild agent people were crazy back then, there is something happening in this big, loud unrestrained democracy that seems to be pitting americans against each other. people start to ask, who should we blame? some people blame the politicians. a vulgar kind of crooked thing. political bosses above all from the founding fathers. the new ones look kind of sleazy by comparison. some elites start to say democracy has failed. they are really a lead us about this. as long as working-class people can outvote the wealthy and educated you can never reform this thing. they called voters and say democracy in america is a failure we need to get rid of it reconstruction is ending and southern states are making it
6:20 am
harder and harder for black voters to go to the polls. in the rest of the country, these elites cannot disenfranchise voters, but they do put forward a sense of democracy that is overheating. even in this era of construction. it turns out it is getting higher elections. it is getting closer. no ability to turn off this political system. americans claim they are the worst governed country on the face of the earth at the time. because it will kelly and the relationship is so tied up with the democracy, their relationship enters a dark phase two. moving to europe and becomes a socialist. she befriends frederick who runs the movement. she writes these letters that are critical of the voters in america, critical of democracy and especially critical of her father. she blames her father and letters and in print. claiming he cares about the working class when really he has just held off for decades right
6:21 am
in this era in the 1980s when she has bad mouthing her father publicly, will kelly, after, you know, decades in politics, he dies in 1890. dramatically right before he dies, they reconcile and he meets his grandkids and they start to build a future together, but then he passes away in 1890. you can really see the world he built in these three big revolutions of his era. the big changes are the end of slavery, the rise of popular democracy and the growth of the industrial economy. his fingerprints are on all three of them for 60 years in public life. he models his society. he had in a strained relationship. what few people can see at this point is how forcefully he would carry on his legacy into the 20th century. at the same time around the 1990s there is a new movement moving that i call the great
6:22 am
quieting. they cannot agree on what america should do in the future. but they can agree on what is wrong. they can agree that this system is failing america. there's a great -- he writes government by a party is not a means of settling things. it is devices for keeping them unsettled. the only way to save america is to restrain politics. to make a movement to make politics more respectable, more civil, or restraint. it is a revolution for boring politics. a re- envisioning of how we engage in democracy. they make key cultural changes to campaigning and voting to bring about these reforms. .... ....
6:23 am
claiming they want people to be sober but saloons are a key institution for working-class voters so shutting them down and shut a lot of people out and they print tons of educational material instead of giving the streetcorner addresses and they push key voting reforms, too. they get rid of that system of voting in public and introduced the secret ballot which is printed by the government and cast in private in the introduced voting machines begin that they can get technology to get rid of cricket elections in the introduced the idea of voters as individuals, not voting with their community, not part of their society but along with their conscience. on the one hand this makes people more thoughtful and in many ways there voting doesn't prove and on the other hand requires literacy, confidence to move to spaces, time off from work and it changes how people participate. some of these reformers want to improve democracy and they want to make them a rational, more
6:24 am
except a full and many of them supported women's suffrage but they also support many of them with a call secret cause of making voting harder and less accessible and less popular. by 1900 all the small reforms over the last decade or so start to have a big impact in voter turnout crashes. turn out which average 77% in the second half of the 19th century falls over the next decade to consistently every presidential election by the 1920s be read than half of the eligible voters are going to the polls were previously 80% did. turn out crashes among classes who are vulnerable. working-class people, immigrants, african americans and north and south and young people stop voting and they been made voting has just been appealing enough their turnout dramatically crumbles and the electric going into the 1900s is wealthier, whiter, older, more nativeborn than was previously and they do bring some positive changes. partisanship falls in the same
6:25 am
era and it becomes better and more acceptable to be independent than to be a part of it and previously he was seen as a sign of weakness to be independent. and early 20th century is a mired until a by the mid- 20th century political scientists worry that voters are part of them enough and they can't tell the difference between the party and violence, it becomes rare to have of violent election which used to be commonplace and the rate of murders of congressman falls from one every seven years to one every 25 years. they make big structural changes, too. congress stop expanding the number of seats with the population and up till 1911 congress expanded with the population but at 435 which is the same number we have today even though we have a country that is more than three times the size and the presidency takes on more power and administrators and bureaucrats take on more power and demerits lloyd said when i use that politics about government and we are moving toward government without politics.
6:26 am
there is a lot of trade-offs in this revolution. it brings out those progressive reforms that improve people's lives, cleanup cities, cleanup food, help fight disease and vaccination campaigns and all these things and politics are less divisive, less violent, less tribal but it's also more distant and less participatory and they trade participation for civility in this era. in a system that was public, partisan and passionate becomes private, independent and restrained. this is the era when becomes intellectual to talk politics at the dinner table and applicable symbols go from in uniform to campaign buttons and straw voter hats. you can see how normal politics as most of it remember from the late 20th century is emerging from this and ironically this is a great time and even though she's not a restrained person by any means this is the era which takes off in the new style really suits her. she becomes in the 1900s and the 19 tens among the most influential figures in american
6:27 am
life and many said she was the most powerful and influential woman in america social reform. she leads the national consumer which fights claim up and end child labor and gets this reputation for being an explosive, hot tempered, determine public speaker and makes friendships and enemies later with teddy roosevelt, louis and brandeis, james adams, and helped found the naacp. she fights for child labor and helps introduce federal connections that eventually become social security act of the 1930s. she's called a fire eater and a black dress for her combative politics and her call him into mere personal style and while she's aggressive personally she's a fire eater and she knows how to use this new political and instead of focusing on campaigning, voting, speech she focuses on lobbying interest groups, administrators and she never said she trusted the voters and she hates all parties for her whole life, not just her
6:28 am
father's republican party and the democratic party but she can't get along with the populist of the socialist or any of these and she finds more ways around politics. now, will florie kelley work for from the 1930s they lived in different worlds highlights how their political differences change. the world the look revolutionary when florie was coming up came over the last century normal politics and the political style that will survived in, the public, passionate partisan style seems to be making a comeback. the smithsonian is out there again and my colleagues are out there going to and collecting from things like recent elections in philadelphia with the mailbox costumes and tu churches from the riots in charlottesville in 17 and were working to tell her story in our struggle with our democracy and the future generation that will surely be as public with what
6:29 am
we're doing with now as we are of those gilded age elections. as we consider our own moment and our own crisis of democracy i do think there are lessons that we can take from this history. most of them are optimistic. the first is that this is not the first time we had to fight to save our democracy from ourselves. that crisis is not the end of the world in a moment's for the most part not unprecedented. there are clear historic precedents is in much of what we are dealing with. the second point of that is possible. previous generations successfully have turned down the volume and partisanship, divisiveness, put violence, not all errors and in civil war inevitably and our democracy, i think, is law more resilient and less brittle then we have given it credit. at the same time history is about trade-offs. we don't have a consciousness of what it will cost to cool our democracy the way people around 1900 sacrificed. we will lose something in the process as we gain something and this is just how change and reforms work.
6:30 am
the key one is that it's all about culture and politics that the big performs should really change democracy and that revolutionized american life around 1900 were mostly cultural, small, they were not the laws and amendments and those were civic and to but the changes in behavior came from culture, not as much from law. it's a story that i think in many ways is more intimate and human than the narrative we told about the imminent for voting rights. it is one told through this one fascinating frustrating, forgotten father daughter dynasty, will and flora kelley who tell us so much about this era. that is what is in the book and that is the story i'm trying to tell and i would be happy to take any questions, answer anything about this history and about what we do with the smithsonian and the work or about our political moments. for free to and i will do my best to answer them.
6:31 am
>> since people are taking a moment to think of their or think about the questions i just want to jump in here with i had a couple of things. first of all, thank you for doing this and for all this research which is -- i was just think sitting here thinking that this is such a good thing to have. there we go. hope you got that all the second time through. this is such a good way to put our current time into perspective and, i mean i know not nearly everyone was eligible to vote in the beginning of this time that you are looking at but
6:32 am
when you think 80% of eligible voters voting versus what normal turnouts are today it does make me think maybe there's something to this very passionate political situation that we are, in some form of, that is actually partisan and i just, you know, i know -- of course, everyone here almost is saturated with politics and the thought is that it hasn't ever happened and another party has come through and never ever will happen and so many of the things like the violence in the two-party system and the passion and making a big statement seemed so american, ingrained in who we are and are we doomed to keep reliving the good and the
6:33 am
bad parts of that? >> great question. as a historian i never want to say there is inevitable laws or we are doomed or anything can happen because change is sudden and we've all been talking so much that we didn't that we should never be confident of where we are going but i think there is something fundamentally american about this and it is not all negative. there is an aspect of it that we hate but this is america's first national culture. before people are playing the same games, watching the same movies and going to the same sports events and all these things the develop later, the first thing that all americans do is talk about the federal electoral system. back when maine and california and texas were weeks apart from each other the one thing they had in common is politics. popular culture build up around politics before any of those in before the super bowl and the oscars and all of that this was american culture.
6:34 am
some of that is valuable and there was a time in the 1800s when we were leaving the world in expanding right and it's a deeply flawed system but this is something that is valuable and i think one of the things that just trying to get across the history is the trade-offs that come with it. is it inevitable that high participation means of we politics and low participation means you don't talk politics at the dinner table and it's all dull and boring and is there a way and i don't have the answer to this to get the good without the bad and if we get an engaged electorate without being at each other's throats about it. i don't know. the best way to get people to participate is to kiss them off obviously. if you look at the turnout chart here and if you look at the end 2020 voter turnout in the last election was over 66% in the highest since 1900 and they could look at that and say isn't that awesome in they've got a
6:35 am
good turn out so what a good election 2020 must have been but those of us remember probably would say something else but some of this is just i of the beholder but there are positive changes. in terms of the present millennial's and gen z are voting at higher rates than baby boomers and young people are more engaged and i think rethinking more about our political system and demanding more of it, in many ways. i see reason for hope mixed in with all the craziness that we worry about spivak yeah, that part is amazing. just to see that out and brings it out like that is something. >> yeah, i've been upset honestly and that's a think that got me digging in is it is the same chart but when you look at that crash and say what did it mean for individual people's lives to live in that world and would turn out and it's just so
6:36 am
interesting to me how intimate some of that is in a big it is at the same time. that's motivated my fellowship for years is just that one is simple. >> yeah, fascinating. i did have, let me see. i did have another something i wondered if you could talk a little bit more about because it's fascinating and maybe i'm also flora went against her father and denouncing him for part of her life and so when she was in europe and became a socialist what did that mean at that point exactly? what or how would that have changed her views and the people who were socialists, how was that carried out in their lives? >> great question britt i love questions about flora and will. you write a book and you write a book about them and you read their diaries and then you feel like you can speak for them.
6:37 am
there's a huge spectrum and they are socialists in the parliament of certain government in europe and then socialists who are assassinating leaders when there are assassinations in europe. what it means for flora is a sense of the demands of protecting working people and people who are lower income need a broader international bond and movement and at one point a revolution to be enacted that he's fighting for laboring people and the main thing he wants to do is expand the terrorist. he wants to use the ability of the american government to protect american industry and the things that will solve our problems and make american laborers better off but if you protect american laborers at the expense of german laborers and anguish laborers and russian laborers and chinese laborers he is hurting the world to help his little group and he's no better, in some ways, then the industrialists who are hurting
6:38 am
working people and he still defending them the minority against the majority. he publicly denounces him for that and it's interesting because on the one hand she denounces him who is a huge celebrity at the time, widely known and it's in the immersion press and these guys will and flora are celebrities and it doesn't hurt that she's attractive and says dramatic things and she shows up in the press a lot and it is known widely that they are feuding but the same time what they are feuding over his her carrying on the values he raised her with. even though they are fighting, even though it doesn't look great and causes them stress and frustration really lori is, she is the refined version of these values and in some way and i think by the end of his life he succeeded and he's carrying on his mission and extending it further. we get the social security act of the 1930s based on laws she
6:39 am
helped pass and we end child labor largely in america because of her reforms and she succeeds in some ways even more than her father did despite the fact that there personal relationship was at times complicated so i do think there is a through line despite all their personal conflict. >> interesting. interesting. one other thing that i just wrote down while you are talking because it seemed so perfect for deaf filling the last years government by examination. i think that goes back to what you were saying about making people really mad just to come out to vote. is that, before the civil war, i suppose there are times that has been the case throughout and that has always been in america the things that gets people out
6:40 am
to try to do something. it just seemed so perfect. [laughter] we are also indignant -- indignant spivak and one of the things about looking at similar emotions is one of 50 years ago you can see, without the heat, without having feelings about it you can see the silliness and the manipulation of it that when or when you read these newspapers and their cursing the opponents over tariff reform for the gold standard and, you know they're killing each other in the street quite literally it seems so dry and her came to us today that you can imagine somebody 160 years from now saying they were arguing over what? they were arguing over wearing a mask or whatever the hot political issue of 20, 2021 is? and you can see the separation of the mechanism and outrage from the actual issue which may be had nothing to do with that outrage.
6:41 am
it does work in the way they and it is they move all the energy elsewhere. if you look at the press and if you read that paper from the 1850s-1900s tons of really heated political rhetoric and name-calling and mudslinging and it means stuff and things you will not see today on breitbart. no one in the main political spectrum are going as far as the going back then. a lot of that energy goes into following celebrity, reporting on crime, reporting on gossip and scandal in the newspapers of the 20th century. people don't get better for the find other things to get worked up about. this is the era when the tabloid emerges and they're not cursing a congressman or senator but cursing a hollywood starlet or whatever. some of these are human emotions that bounce around at some point they focus and some can focus the other and the reason they get focused on politics and democracy in the 19th century
6:42 am
and today is this kind of sense of disruption, people of unstable lives and those who leave and item greater income equality and when they lack institution and communities need something to hold onto and that party applicable system are just structures people can grab onto and obsess over and focus on the next election, focus on the other parties and then in the 20th century in many ways they are stable and have other identities and have senses of communities so they don't care about the election of the local dogcatcher or whatever spivak yeah, spivak yeah, what speed mac spivak it made me think of the amazing things stacy abrams have done with redistricting and how if you look across pre- much across the country that's a huge thing and how every elections
6:43 am
work out but it is not there is not that chance to get indignant about it or anything so it doesn't have the appeal spivak but the good news is we are paying attention. a generation ago there's a great sense in the 1990s that homer symptoms stays at home from church on a sunday and turns on the tv and it's a debate on redistricting and clearly just the most boring thing and he finally has a minute to himself and the dullest thing possibles on the tv and now we are tweeting and arguing about very man dream. homer simpson of today would be screaming at his tv about that same thing and i think that's a negative aspect of it but were paying attention with a positive aspect and i don't know but the apathetic political engagement of the 20 century and i don't admire that and it's good they're not killing each other but it if turnout is 40% and people can't tell the difference between the republicans and
6:44 am
democrats will then that's a loss of the same time spivak and not killing each other in the streets and at least we've met. >> that's the other thing about our era. we know that anything is on the table so that bar is low. >> very true. okay, we are getting close to the end of our time but i did also want to ask you to get a more different question but i wonder if you would talk a little bit about, sort of, you talk about what you do generally in your job as a curator at the smithsonian institute museum but i wonder if you talk about how you got to that position and what your days look like in general. >> the beauty of this money and as the days are just so different every day.
6:45 am
the smithsonian curators are supposed to work on research, collection, exhibition and service. sometimes in the morning you work on research but it and in the afternoon you try to collect the mailbox costume and then you talk to a school group so there's just a great variety because our job is to teach the public about history and the public is engaged. people sometimes can claim that americans don't know enough about history but it feels like there are a lot of people out there who care right now. that is good. how i got there, i guess i've always loved history and been passionate about history since i was a child and for a while i thought i wanted [inaudible] and i got obsessed with that era and that turn out but it started to feel like a really small population to argue with about the turnout in the 1860 election. only so many people know about the stuff and i want people to know about this so i started writing for the maritimes and gravitated to the smithsonian as a way to bring this to the
6:46 am
public because i think it is useful and fascinating and isolated on a few, you know, college history department so there's a lot out there, especially now when we care more and pay attention to some of these things and i think there are so many things we owe to the public and to bring to them and to try to teach them. >> yeah, thank you for that and for doing it because i totally agree with what you're saying because it's fascinating but it really takes an effort to put in the family that you can get out to a lot of people because, you know, it's not necessarily where we are willfully try not to learn our history but that there are a million things distracting us and a lot going on each day and i think that, i mean, we can look around everyday here in dc and see how many people in nonpandemic times are history museums and art
6:47 am
museums and people want to know about these things but it takes work to get it into format that people can hold onto and it got to give people something that they can grasp and then you never know how much one of those kids you talk to this morning will become fascinated with history. >> yeah, the amazing thing about the smithsonian is i'm obsessed with the turnout chart from the 19th century and there is someone in office down the halls deeply knowledgeable on food history or trains or dinosaurs so the rest of knowledge we're trying to bring to the public really is exciting and the colleagues i get to work with our wonderful. >> sounds like a dream job to me. >> it's fun. [laughter] kate, would you like to ask a question or should i read it?
6:48 am
i guess i can read it. lori, would you mind -- >> yes. kate says i'm curious how you recommend the average layperson get involved in learning about people and events from the smithsonian collection. i'm assuming you all have had a lot of documents like these diaries and it so interesting to learn about what people are thinking and doing in these political areas or areas. >> great question. first thing you have to do is buy and read my book. first that. there are great research. the smithsonian is huge but we recently opened, if you google and mah collection with a keyword search for a huge portion of the millions of objects we have and you can plug in and that keyword search lincoln, hats, baseball, whatever you are interested in see a significant portion of it.
6:49 am
a lot of online resources. smithsonian magazine is a great insight and a great way in there. if you're interested in diaries and letters the library of congress is really wonderful and has a great website and the american website and there are other ones if you're interested in southern history and their great ones the most historical societies in whatever town you live in has great exhibitions and resources online and a lot of the things are sitting on websites that not enough people go to. look into what we make available at the smithsonian but look at the local, historical society where that kind of thing. there really is a lot out there if you're interested. >> somebody else raised their hand there. >> let's see. >> i don't want to miss anybody. i'm trying to make sure and you think i would be better at this
6:50 am
by now. [laughter] i think we got it all. well, this is a tiny taste of what is in the book and there is so much more here and just, it really gives you a whole new perspective or some new facets of thinking about today. by the book. that's the best first step you can take. >> go to east city bookshop, online or in person. they are open. >> right, exactly. thank you, jon. go to the smithsonian if you are in town when they open back up which things will be next month. >> yeah, i think the american history museum will be open and it's probably a good time to go. if you are vaccinated and feel comfortable you could probably really enjoyed the museum in the next couple of months that is harder when so yeah, i would go. >> wonderful. thank you, jon.
6:51 am
thank you to e
6:52 am
6:53 am
6:54 am
6:55 am
6:56 am
6:57 am
6:58 am
my name is rachel and i'm the managing librarian of the brooklyn heights branch of the brooklyn library temporarily offering lobby service out of the new center for history as we anticipate the opening of our new branch this full. it is my pleasure


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on